It’s a classic dynamic in nearly every relationship: One partner tends to be the more vocal, outwardly emotional communicator, while the other partner is stoic, bottled-up, and emotionally reserved. Sometimes, one partner can be both. When the communicator tries to get the bottle to open up, the result can be a tug of war that ends in criticism and distancing. In a recent article, licensed clinical social worker Terry Gaspard describes why the “pursuer-distancer” pattern can be lethal to your marriage. Gaspard says that even though the pursuer partners, usually women, have nothing but good intentions when they try to coerce their spouses to crack open their emotional vaults, they approach it the wrong way.
Harassing and nagging a reserved person to communicate will usually cause that person to close up more tightly. They can become avoidant, angry, defensive, and even hostile. The nagging partner will then escalate the nagging, maybe throwing in a little criticism as a negative motivator, all with the goal of creating a more intimate union with their spouse. Relationship expert Dr. John Gottman also warns against pushing your relationship into this downward spiral. He believes that gender differences are at the core of how partners communicate. He suggests that if communication issues are developing in a relationship, the couple should examine how they are addressing those issues before they find themselves in the pursuer-distancer vortex.
Gaspard notes that our culture is partly responsible for perpetuating this destructive dance. “The irony of the pursuer-distancer pattern is that it’s reinforced by popular self-help books and websites to save your marriage,” said Gaspard. Even therapists encourage their clients to develop healthy communication strategies. But without proper guidance, couples can enter into a dialogue without boundaries that can quickly take on a life of its own. Gaspard suggests that couples remain open with each other and think of communicating honestly as a way to share information with each other. Learning more about your partner’s feelings should be a pleasure, not a chore.
Gaspard, Terry. (2013). How the pursuer-distancer pattern can destroy your marriage. (n.d.): n. pag. Huffington Post. Web. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/terry-gaspard-msw-licsw/how-the-pursuerdistancer-_b_2856533.html
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